Lonely Planet Writer

We knew it! It's been proven that travel makes us happier than buying things we want

While it hardly comes as a surprise to us here in Lonely Planet, research has shown that travel makes us happier for longer than buying things we desire.

Eiffel Tower and bateau mouche on River Seine.
Eiffel Tower and bateau mouche on River Seine. Image by Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University in New York, has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. His research indicates that when we buy things to make us happy, we mistakenly assume that they will make us happier for longer than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation.

Sydney was voted the fifth best city in the world for quality of life in a PWC study. Image: Cailtin Holmes/Lonely Planet
Sydney was voted the fifth best city in the world for quality of life in a PWC study. Image: Cailtin Holmes/Lonely Planet

According to Dr. Gilovich, the main impediment to happiness is adaptation. The reality is that when we buy something we really want, as soon as it becomes ordinary and unexciting to us, the level of life satisfaction we feel falls.

The Harbin Ice Festival in China. Image: Anita Isalska/Lonely Planet
The Harbin Ice Festival in China. Image: Anita Isalska/Lonely Planet

The Cornell research has shown that when we go travelling, we experience the same increase in happiness initially as we do purchasing something we desire. However, while the level of happiness we derive from our purchase falls over time, the memories of our travel experiences continue to supply us with happiness hormones for far longer.

Aya Sofya, Turkey, No10 in the Ultimate Travelist.
Aya Sofya, Turkey, No 10 in the Ultimate Travel list. Image by Mark Read, Lonely Planet

The research concludes that every new memory becomes a source of joy that stays with us for our entire lives. Going on travel trips, learning new skills, and even partaking in extreme sports are all ideal sources of happiness.

 

Another reason for the happiness factor is that shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption. You’re much more likely to feel connected to someone you went on holiday to Asia with, than someone who also happens to have bought a similar car to you.

Lonely Planet News met visitors from places such as Japan, USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland and Germany.
Lonely Planet News met visitors from places such as Japan, USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland and Germany. Image by James Gabriel Martin

Gilovich’s research shows that even if someone wasn’t with you when you had a particular experience, you’re much more likely to bond over a shared experience. So if you both walked the Camino de Santiago or saw the same show, you’ll feel a bigger connection than you would over owning the same TV.

Tourists hiking in Yading Nature Reserve. Image: Atid Kiattisaksiri/LightRocket via Getty Images
Tourists hiking in Yading Nature Reserve. Image: Atid Kiattisaksiri/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sounds to us like the perfect excuse to get the suitcase or backpack out.

Check out the full report here.